The man in the macintosh

The man in the macintosh

In Brief

Like the never-quite-real Martha Clifford introduced in Lotus Eaters, the mysterious stranger that Bloom spots in the cemetery––"that lankylooking galoot over there in the macintosh"––never quite becomes a known person. He appears in two more chapters and is mentioned in another six (in the second half of the novel, every chapter but Penelope), but the air of mystery surrounding him remains. Joyce made the man a puzzle, larding him with enough intriguing details to send readers off in search of his identity. As Joycean puzzles go it is an unusually difficult one, and some critics have judged it to be insoluble. This may be so, but no one should jump to such a conclusion hastily, since Joyce's obscure clues usually lead somewhere. In this case he supplied an extraordinary number and wove them together in precise patterns, using details in one chapter to buttress impressions created in another. Whether or not he had a name in mind, he seems to have labored to create a coherent picture of someone. One critic has advanced strong arguments that this someone is the ghost of Bloom's father.

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The macintosh, often spelled "mackintosh" as in Oxen of the Sun, was a heavy-duty raincoat named after Scottish chemist Charles Macintosh, who in 1824 came up with the idea of using naphtha to bond a layer of rubber between two layers of cotton cloth. The mention of such a coat is itself puzzling. Ireland has notoriously wet weather, so going out with a raincoat or umbrella normally makes sense. In Calypso Bloom thinks, "Hallstand too full. Four umbrellas, her raincloak." But on the morning and afternoon of 16 June 1904 Dublin is sunny and warm, and there have been weeks of drought. Much later in the day a violent rainstorm blows through the city, catching many people off guard, but one man is ready for it, dressed stoutly in an unbreathable garment that would be stifling in the noontime heat. Does he somehow foresee the torrential rain? Is he a traveler who routinely wears a rubberized coat to be prepared for rain? Is he infirm and vulnerable to chills?

Bloom's physical descriptors are also intriguing. "Lanky" people are tall and skinny. A "galoot" is unkempt or clumsy-looking, and in Ireland, Dolan notes, "an awkward, stupid man; a fool." Combined, the two words suggest a figure who is gaunt, dishevelled, pathetic, out of place in the well-dressed decorum of the cemetery. These impressions are confirmed and amplified at the end of Oxen when, in the whirl of words in Burke's pub, people remark upon an odd-looking stranger:

Golly, whatten tunket's yon guy in the mackintosh? Dusty Rhodes. Peep at his wearables. By mighty! What's he got? Jubilee mutton. Bovril, by James. Wants it real bad. D'ye ken bare socks? Seedy cuss in the Richmond? Rawthere! Thought he had a deposit of lead in his penis. Trumpery insanity. Bartle the Bread we calls him. That, sir, was once a prosperous cit. Man all tattered and torn that married a maiden all forlorn. Slung her hook, she did. Here see lost love. Walking Mackintosh of lonely canyon. Tuck and turn in. Schedule time. Nix for the hornies. Pardon? Seen him today at a runefal? Chum o' yourn passed in his checks?
We are not told who has "Seen him today at a runefal"––though Bloom seems the only likely candidate––but clearly this is the same man spotted in the cemetery. A discreet "Peep at his wearables" shows that he is "tattered and torn" like the man in the nursery rhyme. His socks are thread-"bare," and his coat looks like he has been walking down long "Dusty Rhodes." Gifford identifies a person of this name as "an American comic-strip character from about 1900, the tramp who weathers continuous comic misfortune," and he suggests that the following moniker, "Walking Mackintosh of lonely canyon," echoes the titles of "American dime-novel Westerns." In a JJON note, John Simpson supports Gifford's gloss, observing that the Dusty Rhodes character began to appear in American newspapers "around 1891" and in cartoons several years later, including some in a British comic magazine called Illustrated Chips which was stocked by the Dublin newsagent Tallon's in 1898.

Dusty Rhodes was a battered-looking old tramp, and Joyce's man in the macintosh fits that mold. He looks not only poorly dressed but half-starved. "Jubilee mutton" refers to the unsatisfyingly small portions of free mutton given to Dublin's poor during Queen Victoria's 1897 Jubilee visit. "Bovril" beef tea, which was widely advertised as a restorative tonic for the infirm, seems in order: he "Wants it real bad." The phrase could mean either that the man craves the broth or that he needs it, a distinction without a difference. Apparently he is known to certain people as "Bartle the Bread" (Slote cites two entries in Joyce's Oxen notesheets suggesting sources of this expression) because he habitually chews on pieces of bread––a habit confirmed in a passage at the end of Wandering Rocks that will be mentioned in a moment.

In addition to these physical details the Oxen passage suggests that someone in the group of medical students knows something of the stranger's life story, apparently because he treated or at least saw a "Seedy cuss in the Richmond" Asylum who was suffering from delusions: "Thought he had a deposit of lead in his penis." (Slote cites a sentence in Joyce's notesheets for Oxen that connects this detail to Spanish fly, an aphrodisiac: "Chap thinks he has swallowed fly, deposit of lead in penis.") If the man was indeed committed to a mental hospital and subsequently released, this would be a case of "trumpery insanity," i.e., temporary insanity. Apparently he had a nickname within the walls of the institution: "Bartle the Bread we calls him." The medico does not know the bedraggled man's name, but he knows that he was once well-off and fell on hard times: "That, sir, was once a prosperous cit."

And then this speaker adds an even more distinctive biographical detail. Recalling several more words from The House that Jack Built, he says that the man all tattered and torn "married a maiden all forlorn. Slung her hook, she did. See here lost love." The man apparently descended into insanity because his wife, a deeply unhappy woman, died or otherwise left him. He is a walking example of the pain of lost love. Although the speaker does not say how he knows these things, one can imagine a hospital attendant hearing them said of a patient, and if true they would account for the man's visit to the graveyard. Lest anyone doubt this reading, Joyce supplies a confirmatory detail in Cyclops: "The man in the brown macintosh loves a lady who is dead." This sentence occurs in one of the chapter's wildly parodic passages, but another detail in that passage ("Gerty MacDowell loves the boy that has the bicycle") is shown to be accurate in the following chapter.

Hades offers one more striking detail: the man seems spectral. Bloom first spots him while the funeral party is standing around Dignam's grave:
Mr Bloom stood far back, his hat in his hand, counting the bared heads. Twelve. I'm thirteen. No. The chap in the macintosh is thirteen. Death's number. Where the deuce did he pop out of? He wasn't in the chapel, that I'll swear. Silly superstition that about thirteen.
The stranger may have joined the funeral party out of sympathetic curiosity, wandering over from a nearby grave to observe, but if so, why did the observant Bloom not notice his approach? His sudden appearance feels almost ghostly: "Where the deuce did he pop out of?" Later, when Bloom looks around for the man in response to a question from Joe Hynes, he has vanished just as abruptly, which would be hard to do in the open spaces of the cemetery: "Where has he disappeared to? Not a sign. Well of all the.... Become invisible. Good Lord, what became of him?" The impression of ghostliness is reinforced at the end of Wandering Rocks when someone dashes in front of the viceroy's carriage: "In Lower Mount street a pedestrian in a brown macintosh, eating dry bread, passed swiftly and unscathed across the viceroy's path." Crossing the street in front of a team of horses is life-threatening. Is the man exceptionally surefooted to brave death in this way, or does he not have to worry about death anymore?

The spookiness is augmented by Bloom's numerology. He counts heads around the grave and reflects, "I'm thirteen. No. The chap in the macintosh is thirteen. Death's number." The belief that thirteen people in a group foretells death was traditional. Slote cites Mary Colum's testimony that Joyce took the belief seriously, once becoming highly agitated when the imminent addition of two more people to a gathering promised to make a total of thirteen (Our Friend James Joyce, 133). Brewer's Dictionary cites a Spectator article, "On Popular Superstitions," in which Joseph Addison recalls being in "a mixed assembly that was full of noise and mirth, when on a sudden an old woman unluckily observed there were thirteen of us in company. This remark struck a panic terror into several who were present," until a quick-witted friend reassured the fearful women that, since one of them was pregnant, they were really fourteen and so no one was going to die. Like Addison, Bloom regards the fear as a "Silly superstition," but it is deeply enough engrained in him that he reflexively counts heads. The taboo apparently was inspired by Christ holding a Last Supper with his twelve disciples just before his betrayal and death. Judas is usually seen as the deadly thirteenth at that gathering, and Bloom regards the macintosh man in the same way.

In Circe, where sudden apparitions and disapparitions are commonplace, the man again performs his ghostly trick just as Bloom's apotheosis nears its highest pitch:
      (A man in a brown macintosh springs up through a trapdoor. He points an elongated finger at Bloom.)
      THE MAN IN THE MACINTOSH: Don’t you believe a word he says. That man is Leopold M’Intosh, the notorious fireraiser. His real name is Higgins.
      BLOOM: Shoot him! Dog of a christian! So much for M’Intosh!
      (A cannonshot. The man in the macintosh disappears. Bloom with his sceptre strikes down poppies. The instantaneous deaths of many powerful enemies, graziers, members of parliament, members of standing committees, are reported....)
The trap door suggests an allusion to Hamlet, since the ghost in that play, after speaking with Hamlet, exits through such a device in the stage floor, prompting the prince to refer to "this fellow in the cellarage" (1.5.151), "old mole" (162), "A worthy pioner!" (163). In Joyce's recasting of the scene the ghostly figure comes to accuse Bloom rather than Claudius, and it charges him with false identity rather than murder. Giving Bloom the name "Leopold M'Intosh" allies him with the ghostly figure just as tightly as the name Hamlet allies the prince with his ghost. And since Bloom's mother was Ellen "Higgins," maternity too is involved.

The name "M'Intosh" has a comical birth in Hades when newspaper reporter Joe Hynes, compiling a list of mourners, asks Bloom about the man "over there in the..." Bloom completes the sentence with the name of the raincoat but Hynes misunderstands and writes down "M'Intosh." Newspapers not only describe reality; they create it. In the Evening Telegraph that Bloom peruses in Eumaeus one person has been changed into another (L. Boom), two people not present at the funeral have attended it (Stephen Dedalus and Charley M'Coy), and one person who was anonymously present has acquired a name. Since that name is clearly fictive, Joyce encourages his readers to identify "His real name," just as he does with Martha Clifford.
Bloom ponders this question throughout the novel. In Hades he thinks, "Now who is he I'd like to know? Now I'd give a trifle to know who he is. Always someone turns up you never dreamt of." In Sirens he wonders again who the man may be, just after marveling that the croppy boy did not spot the British soldier in the priest's garments: "All the same he must have been a bit of a natural not to see it was a yeoman cap. Muffled up. Wonder who was that chap at the grave in the brown macin." If the boy was not mentally deficient, Bloom thinks, perhaps he failed to recognize the yeoman because his face was "Muffled up." And then he thinks of the "chap at the grave." Does he do so because he had trouble viewing that man's face? These moments of speculation about the macintosh man's identity lead to a final posing of the question in Ithaca, the chapter where Joyce also challenges his readers to "find M. C." Three mysteries preoccupy Bloom as he prepares for bed. The second, "selfinvolved enigma" is "Who was M'Intosh?"

These clear invitations to solve a mystery have prompted a blizzard of hypotheses from Joyce's critics. M'Intosh, some say, is James Joyce. He is Bloom's doppelganger. He is Jesus Christ. He is Death, or Hades. He is the god Hermes. He is Theoclymenos, who predicts the suitors' deaths in the Odyssey. He is Wetherup, a workplace associate of John Stanislaus Joyce. He is James Clarence Mangan, 19th century Irish poet. He is Charles Stewart Parnell, 19th century Irish politician. He is James Duffy from the story "A Painful Case," or Mr. Sinico from that story. These last two possibilities are somewhat plausible, since Duffy did love a lady who died, and she was very unhappy. But Duffy was not married to Emily Sinico, and her husband did not love her much. Other proposed solutions fall much farther short of the mark. Responding to one or two pieces of the puzzle, they ignore all the rest, and most of them, if adopted, would not add anything to one's understanding of the novel's action.

Only one really thorough, careful, and plausible interpretation has yet been offered. In two articles and a section of a book––"The M'Intosh Mystery," Modern Fiction Studies 29 (1983): 671-79; "The M'Intosh Mystery: II," Twentieth Century Literature 38 (1992): 214-25; and Joyce and Reality: The Empirical Strikes Back (Syracuse UP, 2004) pp. 237-49––John Gordon argues that Joyce has constructed a Sherlock Holmes-like whodunit, "set up to tease the reader into thought as deliberately as any Agatha Christie" (2004: 238). (Wilkie Collins' detective novel The Woman in White, which Miss Dunne is reading in Wandering Rocks, also seems relevant, since its title resembles The Man in the Macintosh and the titular figure has escaped from an asylum and is wandering about London. The nameless woman in that novel does turn out to be identifiable.)

A mystery challenges its readers to become detectives, ideally supplying enough clues for smart and determined ones to crack the case themselves. Another premise of the genre, according to Gordon: "If there is one point on which all writers and readers of mysteries agree, it is that you do not solve the riddle ex machina: the culprit ought to be someone in the book, at least by allusion" (1983: 673). Operating on this principle, Gordon looks for distraught widowers in Joyce's fictions and finds only two. One is Simon Dedalus, who cannot be the mystery man because he is in the funeral party. The other is Bloom's father Rudolph, who committed suicide and left behind a note telling his son how terribly he missed his dead wife and longed to be reunited with her.

Crediting this reasoning would, of course, make the stranger a dead man, but Gordon quotes a principle voiced by Edgar Allen Poe's detective Auguste Dupin (and later repeated by Arthur Conan Doyle's Sherlock Holmes): "when you have eliminated the impossible, then what remains must be true" (2004: 240). He also cites Joyce's interest in various kinds of spiritualism, including séances, and the fact that he and his sister once stayed up late at night to see their mother's ghost. It is not difficult to imagine Joyce playing with the possibility of a ghostly visitation in his fiction, given the way he sprinkles themes of death-in-life and life-in-death throughout The Dead and Hades. In Scylla and Charybdis Stephen reads Hamlet as a kind of "ghoststory." If Shakespeare can show a man returning from the dead to visit his son, why not Joyce?

Rudolph Bloom was buried in County Clare after committing suicide in the Queen's Hotel in Ennis, so his ghost, if such it is, has strayed far to be beside his Ellen, whom Bloom reflects is buried "over there towards Finglas," i.e., in the western part of the Glasnevin cemetery. Ghosts traditionally were said to travel great distances, and also, Gordon observes, to do seemingly incongruous things like eating and taking public transportation. In the early 20th century, one was even said to have worn a macintosh. The dead people most likely to return as ghosts were murder victims and suicides––which is why Bloom thinks in Hades, "They used to drive a stake of wood through his heart in the grave," to keep the suicide from coming back. The discussion of suicide in that chapter also specifically evokes the man in the macintosh. Martin Cunningham charitably excuses suicide with the phrase "Temporary insanity," the same phrase used in a garbled way in Oxen. The fact that this man craves Bovril beef broth further associates him with ghosts, because in the Odyssey the wraithlike dead are revivified by drinking the blood of slaughtered cattle.

Numerous details beyond the suicide link this ghost with Bloom's father. Rudolph Bloom was once "a prosperous cit": he bought the Queen's Hotel before suffering financial ruin. In Circe Bloom thinks "I am ruined" while contemplating Rudolph's suicide in the hotel, and in Penelope Molly recalls that he too once talked of running a hotel: "Blooms private hotel he suggested go and ruin himself altogether the way his father did down in Ennis." Bloom's occasional leg pains explain why his father's ghost might show up in rainwear on a day that starts hot and dry but eventually proves rainy: he says in Circe that "I have felt this instant a twinge of sciatica in my left glutear muscle. It runs in our family. Poor dear papa, a widower, was a regular barometer from it." In addition, the "elongated finger" that the trapdoor man points at Bloom may recall Bloom's vivid memory of his father in Aeolus: "Poor papa with his hagadah book, reading backwards with his finger to me."

Finally, the name of the Dusty Rhodes cartoon character echoes again and again. Rudolph Bloom was a traveling salesman, so this tramp is a fitting avatar for him. The narrator of Cyclops thinks of Bloom's "old fellow" as having been "like Lanty MacHale's goat that'd go a piece of the road with every one." The fantastical biblical genealogy applied to Bloom in Circe includes Dusty as a progenitor: "Moses begat Noah and Noah begat Eunuch and Eunuch begat O'Halloran and O'Halloran begat Guggenheim and...ben Maimun begat Dusty Rhodes and Dusty Rhodes begat Benamor..." Several pages later in the same chapter Bloom appears as a wandering peasant dressed in "dusty brogues" and plans to reenact his father's suicide: "I am ruined. A few pastilles of aconite. The blinds drawn. A letter. Then lie back to rest."

At a still finer level of granular detail, Gordon observes that the choice of one morpheme evokes the ghost's paternal relation to Bloom. Amazed by the apparition in the cemetery, Bloom wonders, "Where the deuce did he pop out of?" It might seem falsely associative to take the word in this way, but Gordon observes that in private and in his notebooks for Finnegans Wake Joyce used "Pop" more frequently than any other term for "father." Fathers are the original authority figures, so it is interesting to hear the same word used in an Oedipal context in the trapdoor passage in Circe. Accused by M'Intosh of being M'Intosh, "Bloom with his sceptre strikes down poppies" just before the deaths of various authority figures are reported. Slote cites the legend of Roman king Lucius Tarquinius Superbus striking off the heads of poppies as a coded instruction to put to death the chief men in the rebellious town of Gabii. It seems very likely, then, that Bloom here is enacting a fantasy of killing off his pop.

Seen in the context of patriarchal authority and Oedipal rebellion, other details in the Circe passage make clearer sense. Bloom's real names are "M'Intosh" and "Higgins" because M'Intosh begat him upon Higgins. (As a "seedy cuss," he recalls biblical patriarchs like Abraham and Jacob whose "seed" was multipied.) Bloom may not seem like a "fireraiser" now, but in his adolescent rebellious phase he probably appeared that way to his father when, as Ithaca notes, he advocated radical political positions and disrespected certain Jewish "beliefs and practices." The ghostly figure can denounce him as a fraudulent impostor and Bloom can call his accuser "Dog of a Christian!" (Rudolph's beloved dog Athos may lurk here) because both men are Jews who have tried to pass as Christians, and Bloom is a Jew whose mother is not Jewish. Multiple layers of kinship, guilt, sympathy, and accusation underlie the connection of the two M'Intosh men.

Claud Sykes, an American friend of Joyce’s in Zurich, reported that he liked to ask friends the playful question, "Who was the man in the mackintosh?" Richard Ellmann too mentions these interrogations (516). Joyce's intent in asking the question may be construed in different ways. Did he want to see how well readers had undertaken their detective work, or did he wonder what others thought because he was uncertain himself? Some critics have opted for the latter view. In 1962 Robert Martin Adams wrote in Surface and Symbol that "Joyce has only to play with this unfulfilled curiosity, and to refrain from satisfying it." If the answer is someone as insignificant as Wetherup, he says, "we may be excused for feeling that the fewer answers we have for the novel's riddles, the better off we are. As with Stephen's shaggy-dog riddle at the school, the puzzle is less puzzling than the answer" (218). (Adams does not ponder the fact that this riddle in Nestor is connected with Stephen's anxiety at being haunted by the ghost of his mother.)

A quarter of a century later, Phillip Herring felt that Adams' view was still valid. In Joyce's Uncertainty Principle (1987) he wrote that M'Intosh is only a "deceitful ploy to keep us guessing" (117). Gordon had published his first M'Intosh article in 1983, and Herring aggressively attacked its argument. In his 1992 sequel Gordon responded convincingly to the objections, noting by the way that he never claimed certainty for his hypothesis: "In Ulysses one deals, usually, not with distinctly demarcated realms of known and unknowable, but with relative degrees of exactness and probability. When I first wrote 'The M'Intosh Mystery', I would most likely have put the probability of its thesis at around seventy percent. I'd rate it a good deal higher now...because in the person of Philip Herring an astute critic has challenged it without, I think, successfully undoing any of its arguments" (1992: 219). Gordon has continued to assemble supporting arguments and to address some of the grounds for skepticism, including the question of why Bloom would not recognize his own father. His theory may compel less than one hundred percent certainty, but it is still by far the most powerfully explanatory one out there.

Gordon's answer to the question "Now who is he I'd like to know?" not only accounts for a wealth of textual details. It also fits squarely within the novel's governing narrative structures. Stephen approaches Hamlet as the story of a dead father returning to give purpose to his bewildered son, and he too is a son searching for that kind of purpose, so readers are led to expect that he may discover some of what he seeks in Bloom. But Bloom is not only a father figure. He is also a son, and unlike Stephen he has actually lost his father. He too wears black on June 16, like Hamlet, and like the prince he is troubled by the manner of his father's death. It makes literary sense for him to be haunted as Hamlet is.

The search for paternal significance also informs the classical epics that Joyce is working with. In book 6 of the Aeneid, echoed often in Hades, Aeneas visits the land of the dead to speak with his father and learn his destiny from him. In the Odyssey the protagonist is a lost father returning to Ithaca to form an alliance with his son, but also a son seeking reunion with his aged father. Joyce listed Laertes as a Homeric analogue in his Linati schema, Gordon notes, and the only character in the graveyard to whom he might correspond is the man in the macintosh. Where does Odysseus find his father? Sitting in the middle of a road, covered in dust, grieving his wife's death. Bloom's connections to the Odyssey as to Hamlet are strengthened by recognizing his kinship to the man in the macintosh.

A coda: in a third article, "The M'Intosh Murder Mystery," Journal of Modern Literature 29 (2005): 94-101, Gordon returned to his theory one last time, recapping the points made in earlier publications and adding to them a new speculation that he admits is "alarmingly lurid and louche and just all-around weird" (94). In this essay he ventures to explain how Rudolph Bloom's wife may have died and why he thought he had "a deposit of lead in his penis." At the tail end of an exceptionally long note, that argument can be reserved for another place.

JH 2022
British officer in a macintosh, publication venue and date unknown.
Ad for a gentleman's macintosh in the 1893 catalogue of Carson, Pirie, Scott & Co., by an unknown illustrator. Source: Wikimedia Commons.
Uncaptioned illustration, presumably of Dusty Rhodes and presumably published in Illustrated Chips. Source:
Quantitative analysis of ingredients in meat broths in The Chemistry of Food and Nutrition, by A. W. Duncan (1905). Source:
1892 ad for Bovril. Source:
Ghost of Hamlet's father rising through a trap door in Janet Suzman's 2006 Stratford-upon-Avon production. Source:
1843 print by illustrator George Cruikshank showing Hamlet's ghost being lifted through the trap door while two beaters supply sound effects.